Kangaroo and joey03.jpg
Eastern grey kangaroo
Least Concern (IUCN 3.1)
Subgenus: Macropus and Osphranter
4 species, see text.
The kangaroo /ˌkæŋɡəˈruː/ is a marsupial from the family Macropodidae (macropods, meaning “large foot”). In common use the term is used to describe the largest species from this family, especially those of the genus Macropus: the red kangaroo, antilopine kangaroo, eastern grey kangaroo, and western grey kangaroo. Kangaroos are endemic to Australia. The Australian government estimates that 34.3 million kangaroos lived within the commercial harvest areas of Australia in 2011, up from 25.1 million one year earlier.
As with the terms “wallaroo” and “wallaby”, “kangaroo” refers to a polyphyletic grouping of species. All three refer to members of the same taxonomic family, Macropodidae, and are distinguished according to size. The largest species in the family are called “kangaroos” and the smallest are generally called “wallabies”. The term “wallaroos” refers to species of an intermediate size. There is also the tree-kangaroo, another genus of macropod, which inhabits the tropical rainforests of New Guinea, far northeastern Queensland and some of the islands in the region. A general idea of the relative size of these informal terms could be:
wallabies: head and body length of 45–105 cm and tail length of 33–75 cm; The dwarf wallaby (the smallest member) length is 46 cm and weigh of 1.6 kg;
tree-kangaroos: from Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo body and head length of 48–65 cm, tail of 60–74 cm, weigh of 7.2 kg (16 lb) for males and 5.9 kg (13 lb) for females; to the grizzled tree-kangaroo length of 75–90 cm (30 to 35 in) and weight of 8–15 kg (18–33 lb);
wallaroos: the black wallaroo, the smallest by far, with a tail length of 60–70 cm and weight of 19–22 kg for males and 13 kg for females;
kangaroos: a large male can be 2 m (6 ft 7 in) tall and weigh 90 kg (200 lb).
Kangaroos have large, powerful hind legs, large feet adapted for leaping, a long muscular tail for balance, and a small head. Like most marsupials, female kangaroos have a pouch called a marsupium in which joeys complete postnatal development.
The large kangaroos have adapted much better than the smaller macropods to land clearing for pastoral agriculture and habitat changes brought to the Australian landscape by humans. Many of the smaller species are rare and endangered, while kangaroos are relatively plentiful.
The kangaroo is an unofficial symbol of Australia and appears as an emblem on the Australian coat of arms and on some of its currency and is used by some of Australia’s well known organisations, including Qantas and the Royal Australian Air Force. The kangaroo is important to both Australian culture and the national image, and consequently there are numerous popular culture references.
Wild kangaroos are shot for meat, leather hides, and to protect grazing land. Although controversial, harvesting kangaroo meat has some environmental advantages to limit over-grazing and the meat has perceived health benefits for human consumption compared with traditional meats due to the low level of fat on kangaroos.
2 Taxonomy and description
2.1 Comparison with wallabies
3 Biology and behaviour
3.2.1 Absence of digestive methane release
3.3 Social and sexual behaviour
3.7 Reproduction and life cycle
4 Interaction with humans
4.1 Conflict with vehicles
5 Emblems and popular culture
7 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
A male red kangaroo
The word “kangaroo” derives from the Guugu Yimithirr word gangurru, referring to grey kangaroos. The name was first recorded as “kanguru” on 12 July 1770 in an entry in the diary of Sir Joseph Banks; this occurred at the site of modern Cooktown, on the banks of the Endeavour River, where HMS Endeavour under the command of Lieutenant James Cook was beached for almost seven weeks to repair damage sustained on the Great Barrier Reef. Cook first referred to kangaroos in his diary entry of 4 August. Guugu Yimithirr is the language of the people of the area.
A common myth about the kangaroo’s English name is that “kangaroo” was a Guugu Yimithirr phrase for “I don’t understand you.” According to this legend, Cook and Banks were exploring the area when they happened upon the animal. They asked a nearby local what the creatures were called. The local responded “Kangaroo”, meaning “I don’t understand you”, which Cook took to be the name of the creature. This myth was debunked in the 1970s by linguist John B. Haviland in his research with the Guugu Yimithirr people.
Kangaroos are often colloquially referred to as “roos”. Male kangaroos are called bucks, boomers, jacks, or old men; females are does, flyers, or jills, and the young ones are joeys. The collective noun for kangaroos is a mob, troop, or court.
Taxonomy and description
Red kangaroo grazing
There are four species that are commonly referred to as kangaroos:
The red kangaroo (Macropus rufus) is the largest surviving marsupial anywhere in the world. The Red Kangaroo occupies the arid and semi-arid centre of the country. The highest population densities of the Red Kangaroo occur in the rangelands of western New South Wales. Red kangaroos are commonly mistaken as the most abundant species of kangaroo, but eastern greys actually have a larger population. A large male can be 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) tall and weigh 90 kg (200 lb).
The eastern grey kangaroo (Macropus giganteus) is less well-known than the red (outside Australia), but the most often seen, as its range covers the fertile eastern part of the country. The range of the Eastern Grey Kangaroo extends from the top of the Cape York Peninsula in north Queensland down to Victoria, as well as areas of south-eastern Australia and Tasmania. Population densities of Eastern Grey Kangaroos usually peak near 100 per km2 in suitable habitats of open woodlands. Populations are more limited in areas of land clearance, such as farmland, where forest and woodland habitats are limited in size or abundance.
The western grey kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus) is slightly smaller again at about 54 kg (119 lb) for a large male. It is found in the southern part of Western Australia, South Australia near the coast, and the Darling River basin. The highest population densities occur in the western Riverina district of New South Wales and in western areas of the Nullarbor Plain in Western Australia. Populations may have declined, particularly in agricultural areas. The species has a high tolerance to the plant toxin sodium fluoroacetate, which indicates a possible origin from the south-west region of Australia.
The antilopine kangaroo (Macropus antilopinus) is, essentially, the far-northern equivalent of the eastern and western grey kangaroos. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘Antilopine Wallaroo,’ but in behaviour and habitat it is more similar to red and grey kangaroos. Like them, it is a creature of the grassy plains and woodlands, and gregarious. Their name comes from their fur, which is similar in colour and texture to that of antelopes. Characteristically, the noses of males swell behind the nostrils. This enlarges nasal passages and allows them to release more heat in hot and humid climates.
Palatal view of a Sthenurus sp skull
In addition, there are about 50 smaller macropods closely related to the kangaroo in the family Macropodidae. Kangaroos and other macropods share a common ancestor with Phalangeridae from the mid-Miocene. This ancestor was likely arboreal and lived in the canopies of the extensive forests that covered most of Australia at that time, when the climate was much wetter, and fed on leaves and stems. From the late Miocene though the Pliocene and into the Pleistocene the climate got drier which led to a decline of forests and expansion of grasslands. At this time there was a radiation of macropodids characterised by enlarged body size and adaptation to the low quality grass diet with the development of foregut fermentation. The most numerous early macropods, the Balbaridae and Bulungmayinae, became extinct in the late Miocene around 5–10 mya. There is dispute over the relationships of the two groups to modern kangaroos and rat kangaroos. Some argue that the balbarines were the ancestors of rat kangaroos and the bulungmayines were the ancestors of kangaroos. while others hold the contrary view.
The Kongouro from New Holland, 1772 painting of a kangaroo by George Stubbs
The middle to late bulungmayines, Gungaroo and Wanburoo lacked digit 1 of the hind foot and digits 2 and 3 were reduced and partly under the large digit 4, much like the modern kangaroo foot. This would indicate that they were bipedal. In addition their ankle bones had an articulation that would have prohibited much lateral movements, an adaptation for bipedal hopping. Species related to the modern grey kangaroos and wallaroos begin to appear in the Pliocene. The red kangaroo appears to be the most recently evolved kangaroo with its fossil record not going back beyond the Pleistocene period, 1–2 mya.
Europeans have long regarded kangaroos as strange animals. Early explorers described them as creatures that had heads like deer (without antlers), stood upright like men, and hopped like frogs. Combined with the two-headed appearance of a mother kangaroo, this led many back home to dismiss them as travellers’ tales for quite some time. The first kangaroo to be exhibited in the western world was an example shot by John Gore, an officer on Captain Cook’s Endeavour in 1770. The animal was shot and its skin and skull transported back to England whereupon it was stuffed (by taxidermists who had never seen the animal before) and displayed to the general public as a curiosity. The first glimpse of a kangaroo for many 18th-century Britons was a painting by George Stubbs.
Comparison with wallabies
Kangaroos and wallabies belong to the same taxonomic family (Macropodidae) and often the same genera, but kangaroos are specifically categorised into the six largest species of the family. The term wallaby is an informal designation generally used for any macropod that is smaller than a kangaroo or wallaroo that has not been designated otherwise.